By Samantha Lioi
Allentown, PA — In one corner of Franklin Park’s blacktop, Heidi Wert and her young friends sat drumming for peace, drawing in others to grab a pair of sticks and beat out a rhythm on white plastic tubs – thumping out their commitment to be agents of well-being in their neighborhoods. Among them was Peter Pettit, director of the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding at Muhlenberg College. Mayor Ed Palowski stood talking with folks setting up for the dedication of the Lehigh Valley’s third Peace Pole, the only one in the City of Allentown. The four-sided pillar, bearing “May peace prevail on earth” in Spanish, English, Arabic and German, was a gift to Pastor Tom Albright for his ordination. With his wife Carolyn, Tom gives leadership to Ripple, an eclectic Anabaptist urban worshiping community “moving toward Jesus as our center.” As they learn more what it means to follow Jesus, Tom says, they also learn, “We need each other.” Tom is credentialed by Franconia Mennonite Conference and the group grew out of ministry with Whitehall Mennonite Church, just outside of the city.
This mutual need, mutual honesty and encouragement were clear in the words and acts surrounding this pole on Saturday, as various people of faith gathered in a common desire for respectful relationships which build trust and shed fear in our city. Josh Chisholm of Congregations United for Neighborhood Action (CUNA) stood at the mic with his daughter on one hip, describing where he sees peace emerging. John, one of Ripple’s faithful deacons who lives across the street from the park, assisted with logistics and the pole’s unveiling. Rev. Maritza Torres Dolich of St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church across the alley from the park said she sees peace in the children playing here day after day, and in her conversations with them. Torres Dolich, originally from Puerto Rico, read the peace pole’s message in Spanish on behalf of Allentown’s large and growing Latino communities. Muc Nguyen of Vietnamese Gospel Church spoke the pole’s blessing in Vietnamese, and his friend Luke Martin, long-time Mennonite missionary in Vietnam, spoke the words in German, representing the Pennsylvania Dutch settlers in the region. Lucy, a first-year student at William Allen High School just a few blocks from the park, read an original poem of peace and sang a song of worship that made children and parents move from playing on the swings and jungle gym behind her to stand listening.
Planting this pole of many tongues calling silently for peace in our city will not stop people from shooting at each other or children from calling out hurtful names across this playground. It will simply remind us who commit ourselves to making peace that we too are planted here among the swing set and the spring onions of the community garden. And unlike this pole, we have breath and voice and power to be in healing relationships. It’s true: we need each other, and we need to remind each other that we are held and empowered by the Source of peace.
Samantha Lioi is an associate pastor at Whitehall Mennonite Church and is part of Zume House in Center City Allentown, an emerging intentional community of faith, witness and hope.